Yezdi, a 'beat' from the past

Mysores pride

An aerial view of the then Ideal Jawa factory. The factory was demolished and an apartment building stands in its place now.  file photo

If Ideal Jawa (India) Limited manufacturing the famed Yezdi motorbikes had continued its operations, it would have been celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Inaugurated by the then Governor of Mysore State, Jayachamaraja Wadiyar in 1961, Yezdi with its slogan of ‘The Forever Bike, Forever Value’ had created a sensation among motorcycle lovers even after four decades of its launch in the country.

One of the more famous engineering industries in Mysore, Ideal Jawa (India) Limited would have set-up base in the Bombay-Pune hadn’t it been for the insistence of Jayachamaraja Wadiyar and the men who made it possible were – Farrokh K Irani and his uncle Rustom. The commercial production of Yezdi bikes started in 1961 with technical collaboration with Jawa Limited of Czechoslovakia.

Speaking with City Herald, Raian Irani, son of Farrokh K Irani recalls the moments during which Yezdi ruled the hearts of motorcycle lovers.

Explaining the history of how the bikes made their foray into the country, Raian said, “Even before Yezdi was being manufactured, British bikes were being imported. At that time we chanced upon an agent for Czech two stroke bikes. Subsequently the first visit was made to Czechoslovakia in 1949 to import the Jawa bikes to India.­”

Continuing he said: “When the then Governor of Mysore State Jayachamaraja Wadiyar heard about the bikes being imported, he was very intent on opening an engineering industry in  Mysore.”However, during that time there was a discussion to open the plant in the Bombay-Pune region as it would have been closer to the port and help the manufacturing considerably. But, the word of Jayachamaraja Wadiyar prevailed.

Raian observed that the former gave his full support and provided necessary facilities and infrastructure for the company to be set-up in the city. Spread over an area of more than 25 acres, the factory was eventually inaugurated by Jayachamaraja Wadiyar in 1961 in Yadavagiri Industrial Area.

While Irani was looking after the promotion of the motorbikes and the business perspective, Rustom was the engineering brain of the company.

The company was awarded a licence and it could manufacture 36,000 bikes per annum. “Most of the materials to manufacture the bike had to be imported,” Raian said.

While the demand for Yezdi was quite high, the government ceiling on the units that could be manufactured was quite a dampener for the motorbike enthusiasts. Discussing the tight regulations, which were in place during the period, Raian mentions, “If we wanted to make the bikes then we had to plan one-and-half years ahead and give the order for the raw materials to be cleared by the government.”

A common grouse during the 1950’s – 70’s among customers was that they had to wait for a long period to get their motorbikes. “When Yezdi was being sold, three two-wheeler bikes were in the market. The Rajdoot, the Royal Enfield and the Yezdi.” As the supply was restricted the combined sales would have been just about more than one lakh a year, he adds.

Compared to the motorbikes, scooters had a higher demand, he says. “If a person booked a Bajaj, then it would take him 15 years to get it; just in time for him to present it at his son’s marriage,” he recalls with a chuckle.

However, the manufacture of the bike stopped in 1998, leaving many disappointed. The reasons were multi-faceted says Raian.

Pointing out the first factor, Raian disclosed, “The product life cycle of two stroke motorcycles had come to an end. By design it was less fuel efficient and less emission compliant.”

Since the factory was quite old, it wasn’t flexible. The manufacturing unit wasn’t suited to make any major changes to the bike. “If we wanted to continue, then a completely new set-up with a huge capital investment would have been needed,” he said.

Flexibility was a major problem, added to the labour issue. He said, “We had 2,000 employees for manufacturing 36,000 units. But present day companies employ around 600 people to manufacture a couple of million units.”

He said that the management had even tried to have a tie-up with Japanese companies. “We even went to Japan.. But for them profitability wasn’t an issue. They wanted market share and wanted companies that could sustain losses during the initial years, which didn’t work out for us,” Raian added. Providing an example to substantiate his statement, he said, “Eventually the four Japanese companies – Kawasaki, Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha – that ventured into the market tied-up with big groups.”

With the company ending operations in 1998, Raian says, “We would have loved to see the company grow. Unfortunately due to circumstances we couldn’t continue.”
Reminiscing about experiences that would always linger in his memories, Raian mentioned, “Walking through the factory and seeing the full fledged dye casting unit and the 800 tonne press shop was both visually and acoustically awesome.”

“Everything shook when the press shop was in full flow,” he recalls with a smile. “Everything was alive when the process took place; the sound, the hum, the vibration, sound of metal being cut, smell of coolant – all this adds to the environs of the factory,” he added.

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